Essential Attributes of Successful CEOs

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Essential Attributes of Successful CEOsOver the past fifteen years, I have had the opportunity to work closely with CEOs of companies, both large ($1b+) and small (start-ups). While each CEO brings a unique set of characteristics to the table, there are some commonalities between those that are able to steer their companies to success (whether through organic growth, acquisition, or an IPO) and those that fall short of their potential.
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Below is a list of five essential attributes successful leaders possess:
  1. Ability to focus on the vision and to communicate that vision to stakeholders.
  2. Awareness of operational details, however, not involved with them.
  3. On top of industry trends -- an avid reader.
  4. Hires strong management teams and supports their decisions.
  5. Meets with customers and can articulate customer needs, challenges and business goals.
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1. Having a Vision

Being at the top of the pyramid, a great CEO must be able to clearly communicate the vision of the company in order to inspire staff, investors, and customers. As the company flag-bearer, all eyes turn to the CEO for direction and example.

2. Macro Management

While it is key for the CEO to understand the every-day activities of the organization and how all the parts fit together to move the company forward, the best CEOs do not get dragged into the seductive lure of micro-managing granular details.
Instead, they maintain a highly trained management team that is fully capable of handling these tasks.
This enables the CEO to remain focused on the primary duties of increasing revenues, and meeting the goals identified in the vision.

3. Leveraging Industry Trends

Staying on top of industry trends through reading, attending conferences and joining trade associations is essential for CEOs to ensure that the direction and vision for the company is on course.
The ability to see into the future is invaluable for steering clear of potential threats and capitalizing on future opportunities.
This is especially important in the constantly evolving technology industry where the CEO needs to determine which changes will have long-term impact and which are merely fads with little real value.
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4. Develop a Foundation of Strength

No company or CEO is successful without a strong management team. Each member must be a leader that knows and is accountable for his or her job responsibilities (and does not try to do the work of other team members).
Quality managers, in turn, know how to mentor and acknowledge the accomplishments of their own staffs in order to keep them motivated, involved and on track to meet the business goals of the company.
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5. Customers are at the Core

Successful CEOs look beyond their raw technology and focus on finding ways to help customers solve their problems. They describe their products in terms of how they address the needs and challenges of their customer’s instead of listing product capabilities.
Great CEOs use their own customers’ words and verbiage.
Through weekly meetings with customers, CEOs have an endless supply of anecdotal situations to share with stakeholders that help create a better product and a more thorough understanding of the customer requirements for a successful business relationship.
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This article is a guest contribution from Nadel Phelan.
Dr. Phelan is President & CEO of NPI PR ( and has 20+ years of experience in global marketing, market research and public relations for high-tech companies including HP, Cisco, and Microsoft. She has led scores of companies through IPOs on eight different exchanges and participated in the promotion of 60+ companies through successful acquisitions (two for over $1B). Dr. Phelan is also an avid photographer and award-winning writer.


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